It was a little more than a month ago when reports surfaced that WWE wasn’t happy with the pitiful star power on the current roster. Complaints came from management that FCW wasn’t producing performers ready to excel on the big stage. Now, the company digs back into the Attitude Era for the business card of Matt Bloom to bring the former Prince Albert back for a major push.
See the net I’m weaving here?
A few weeks ago, when CM Punk and Chris Jericho first stood toe-to-toe in the ring for a dueling promo over whom in fact was the “Best in the World,” Jericho delivered an interesting theme that was mostly overlooked. He remarked that he and Punk were very similar in many ways, one of which being that each was incredibly well traveled as a wrestler before arriving in the WWE.
Before debuting as the Millennium Man, Chris Jericho had competed with rival WCW for years and before even breaking through in the United States, had fought all through Canada and Japan.
CM Punk had too had a lengthy run as an independent wrestler, touring with small companies and doing shows in Japan and Mexico before a decorated run in ROH earned him a spot on the WWE payroll.
While to a much lesser extent, the world heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan was long considered the King of the Indies, delivering critically acclaimed matches throughout the world. It was even part of his debut video on NXT. Don’t think it’s a coincidence that such experience allowed him to rise of the card so quickly.
Consider Alberto Del Rio, who was one of the biggest stars in Mexico and known as Dos Caras, Jr. before signing with WWE. He attacked and defeated Rey Mysterio his first night and won the Royal Rumble his first year. His rise up the ranks is among the fastest in history.
WWE developmental has produced some very talented guys over the years. John Cena and Randy Orton most notably came through developmental when it was operated through OVW. Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes each learned the ropes in developmental and are considered future main eventers.
But then there are all of the others. There is the empty, one-note talent pool that has been running around NXT for the last two years. Alex Riley, David Otunga, Mason Ryan, Michael McGillicutty, Tyler Reks and Ezekiel Jackson. All of these guys, and more, came through WWE developmental, trained in FCW and after runs, many of which as the top champion in Florida. They arrive in WWE with nothing to offer, unable to cut original promos without scripts, wrestling with the same basic power move set you’d see from a first-year wrestling student at any training school in the country.
Yesterday, we learned that WWE was shutting down operations at FCW immediately. The talent under contract will still be paid, but they won’t be training for the time being. Theoretically, the company’s top prospects (Dean Ambrose, Kassius Ohno, Antonio Cesaro, Seth Rollins and Richie Steamboat) will all be joining the active WWE touring roster shortly after WrestleMania. However, the others are in limbo as the company decides what to do with this money pit where they pour resources into building the next generation of stars and get nowhere.
Of course, look at the list of names in parentheses above. Is it any coincidence that four of the five listed primarily learned how to wrestle on the independent scene? Other than Richie Steamboat, who is of course the son of the legendary Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, each could have been called King of the Indies over the last few years. I’m talking about the performers formerly known as Jon Moxley, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli and Tyler Black. Each cut their teeth in a combination of ROH, DGUSA, PWG and internationally before signing with WWE.
So then we look to Matt Bloom, who will be referred to from now on as Lord Tensai. More than a decade ago, Tensai was nothing more than an oddball big man who could hit a convincing bicycle kick. Of course, he won’t be able to sue that any longer, unless we get a showdown of jumping kicks to the face with Sheamus in the near future.
After seeing his career waning, becoming less relevant by the day, he opted to head overseas. In Japan, he became the Giant Bernard and has had great success both as a singles performer and tag team specialist with Karl Anderson. Even though he’s now nearly 40 years old, he has honed his craft and learned how to tell a story and capture an audience to the point he will probably have a strong three-four years left in him before hanging them up.
While his career path worked backwards, having to leave the world’s biggest company to improve his skills before returning to the grand stage, he will return and immediately walk into one of the top programs on the show in all likelihood.
WWE, or more directly Triple H and his inner circle, must look at what has happened in these cases. Clearly, the current developmental system isn’t working. Bland, vanilla wrestlers are coming out without a clear direction for a character or understanding of how to work a crowd on the mic or in the ring. They are quickly being passed by wrestlers with years of experience working small crowds in high school gyms and larger venues in Japan and Mexico.
The manner in which the company identifies and cultivates talent must be reevaluated. They are the biggest name in the business and have no problem attracting the best. They just need to find a new way about finding the best and letting them reach their greatest potential.